Robert Jesse Stoller (December 15, 1924 – September 6, 1991), was a Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA Medical School and a researcher at the UCLA Gender Identity Clinic. He was born in Crestwood, New York, and died in Los Angeles, California. He had psychoanalytic training at the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Society and Institute from 1953 to 1961 with analysis by Hanna Fenichel.
He was the author of nine books, the co-author of three others, and the publisher of over 115 articles.
Stoller is known for his theories concerning the development of gender identity and the dynamics of sexual excitement. In Sex and Gender (1968), Stoller articulates a challenge to Freud's belief in biological bisexuality. Drawing on his extensive research with transsexuals and new advances in the science of sex, Stoller advances his belief in "Primary Femininity," the initial orientation of both biological tissue and psychological identification toward feminine development. This early, non-conflictual phase contributes to a feminine core gender identity in both boys and girls unless a masculine force is present to interrupt the symbiotic relationship with the mother.
Stoller identifies three components in the formation of core gender identity, an innate and immutable sense of maleness or femaleness usually consolidated by the second year of life:
- Biological and hormonal influences;
- Sex assignment at birth and
- Environmental and psychological influences with effects similar to imprinting.
Stoller asserts that threats to core gender identity are like threats to sense of self and result in the defenses known as the perversions.
In his most notable contribution, Perversion (1975), Stoller attempts to illuminate the dynamics of sexual perversion which he fights valiantly to normalize. Stoller suggests that perversion inevitably entails an expression of unconscious aggression in the form of revenge against a person who, in early years, made some form of threat to the child's core gender identity, either in the form of overt trauma or through the frustrations of the Oedipal conflict.
In Sexual Excitement (1979), Stoller finds the same perverse dynamics at work in all sexual excitement on a continuum from overt aggression to subtle fantasy. In focusing on the unconscious fantasy, and not the behavior, Stoller provides a way of analyzing the mental dynamics of sexuality, what he terms "erotics," while simultaneously de-emphasizing the pathology of any particular form of behavior. Stoller does not consider homosexuality as a monolithic behavior but rather as a range of sexual styles as diverse as heterosexuality.
Less well known is Stoller's contribution toward making psychoanalysis a legitimate research tool through the publication of the analyst's data - verbatim notes and transcripts of interviews. Stoller melds the work of the ethnographer and the analyst as a means of producing scientifically valid psychological data. Many of Stoller's books, like Splitting (1973), are devoted to the documentation of the interviews on which he based his research.
Stoller died in a traffic accident near his home.
- Stoller, Robert; Sex and Gender: On the Development of Masculinity and Femininity, Science House, New York City (1968) 383 p.
- Stoller, Robert; Splitting: A Case of Female Masculinity, Quadrangle, New York, (1973) 395 p.
- Stoller, Robert; Perversion: The Erotic Form of Hatred, Pantheon, New York, (1975), 240 p.
- Stoller, Robert; Sexual Excitement: Dynamics of Erotic Life, Pantheon, New York (1979), 281 p.
- Stoller, Robert; Observing the Erotic Imagination, Yale University Press, New Haven, (1985), 228 p.
- Robert Jesse Stoller 1924-1991. Archives of Sexual Behavior, Aug. 1992; 21(4):337–46.
- Goleman, Daniel (September 10, 1991). Dr. Robert J. Stoller, 66, Teacher And Leading Sex-Identity Theorist. New York Times